I was a new principal, about three months into my first year. I had settled pretty well and our district superintendent was visiting my school. If you are not familiar with school leadership structure, think CEO visiting your department or site.
My superintendent, John, was a friendly talkative guy. He loved to share his thoughts on the world. Maybe not the best listener. Definitely not the most self-aware. A typical hour with John included about 58 minutes of John’s voice. It was very important to John that he be perceived as likable, clever, and “cool.” Fortunately, he was pretty entertaining most of the time. Both intentionally and accidentally. Still, as a new principal it was important that I make a good impression today.
John wanted to walk the school with me and asked me to talk about the things that were going well and some of the challenges of a new first year principal. I managed to share how proud I was of the students and staff. True to form, John then launched into talking about his first year as principal.
As we walked through the hallway, I felt pride. You may remember middle school hallways as crowded, noisy, sometimes scary places. They can be. On this day, we were walking while class was in session and the hallways looked great. They were clean, quiet, and remarkably empty of students. Though John never glanced in, every class we passed was active and the teachers were up and moving. In short, I was looking like I had the school handled.
Then, I saw… Ricky. Uh oh.
Ricky was what you probably imagine when you think of a typical middle schooler. He didn’t believe in taking anything seriously. He challenged authority as quickly and naturally as taking a breath. He was walking chaos. And now he was coming toward John and I, wearing a white t-shirt, baggy black jeans (with a wallet chain!), and his standard untied Nikes.
Ricky and I had started the year off on a rough note. For my first month, we spent far too much time together and he spent far too much time out of class. We’d reached an understanding in month two, and now almost had a functional relationship. It was about to be tested. My feeling of pride turned to dread as Ricky strutted casually towards us, his wallet chain swaying with his strut.
John hadn’t noticed. He was telling me about his upcoming ski trip and how he intended to take the most technical runs. John paused when he finally noticed Ricky coming our way. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my boss smile.
Ricky approached, and slid quietly to the other side of the hall. It looked like he was just going to saunter by, too cool to acknowledge the two guys in suits. I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to let it go, rather than engage him in an introduction as I typically would. Luck was with me.
Then, John delivered his line, “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
Ricky just kept walking. As he passed, not even bothering to glance our way, he casually threw out, “Shouldn’t you be actually working?” And then, he was gone.
John froze. I saw his mouth open. Then close. He started to say something, half stammered, then started walking forward again. I fell in beside him and we walked down the rest of the hall, up the stairs to the second floor, and down the next hall. John actually looked into classroom windows as we passed. In the five years we worked together, it was the longest he ever went without talking.
The rest of the visit went well. John became himself again. He complimented my management of the school. We never discussed the incident.
Ricky became a legend among my fellow principals.
Financial Independence Reflection(s)
“Shouldn’t you be actually working?”
I wrote this up as my first FI Lesson not because it’s the best kid story I have (far from it) or because it’s especially clever (it isn’t) but because it’s related to starting this blog. The statement itself, awkwardly phrased and all, is a call to action.
So many people who are frustrated with their job, or money, or any part of their life simply choose to wallow in it. Sometimes, it’s even an excuse to do nothing.
My job sucks, so I’m going to sit and watch TV and have a beer when I get home.
I work hard, so I deserve to buy this expensive thing I don’t need.
If you want to change your circumstance, you need to actually work at it. You aren’t going to win the lottery. Your job isn’t going to magically improve. If you want to achieve financial independence it takes work over a long period of time.
It’s going to take time focused on spending, earning, and investing. It requires you to be intentional with choices. You need to learn about tax strategies, have hard conversations with your family about goals, and spend time tracking numbers.
It takes work.
If you want to share and help others, you need to change those relaxing routines and write. (Whoops, that sentence was for me and my own effort on this blog.)
Never Take Yourself Too Seriously
How great would it have been if John had laughed the interaction off? I came to know Ricky well over the years, and believe that if John had simply chuckled in that moment, he would have have gotten exactly what he wanted: to be perceived as kind of cool. Instead, he was embarrassed and decided to pretend it never happened.
On the journey to financial independence, you will make mistakes. Don’t let them shatter your self-image. Don’t ignore them. Roll with them and use them to do better next time.
Be Willing to Have your Perceptions Challenged
Love them or hate them, middle school kids will test your self image. John wasn’t prepared for this. Ricky presented John with direct and immediate feedback counter to what he believed. He was not immediately impressive to a middle school boy!
John could have taken that opportunity to ask me more about Ricky. Or, about how to engage middle school students. He did none of those things. Perhaps he reflected once he left, but he never discussed it with me.
One of the great things about the journey to financial independence is that there are so many voices sharing their opinions. You should read far and wide. What you believe will be challenged. You can ignore the counter narratives, or use them to strengthen or adjust your own beliefs.
A few examples:
Mr. Money Mustache thinks about life complete differently than many people. I always enjoy reading, though I have realized the MMM approach isn’t totally for me. It absolutely works for some though.
Another great example is Financial Samurai’s thinking about the Roth IRA. This runs counter to virtually every other piece of advice you’ll read. It’s compelling, but you ultimately need to decide if it changes your view.
Just take the opportunity to have your beliefs challenged. Counter narratives are good.
Don’t be the person who lives in frustration or simply falls into the earn/spend cycle. If you want to live a better life, take control of your finances, and pursue your passions, you need to take action.
Do not simply roll through life. Financial independence isn’t as difficult as some people would make you believe. In fact, many have found that the steps they take to reach financial independence lead to instant positive change in life. But, it will never happen if you don’t put in effort. When you slip into that couch trap – remember:
“Shouldn’t you be actually working?” Yes, if you want to reach financial independence.